560 Divisadero Street (at Hayes)
415 864 8643
Nopa is a pretty restaurant with a long, deep bar and a pretty mezzanine looking out and over the bustling floor. We can enjoy bustling restaurants. There is something about sharing a lively evening with people coming and eating and going and talking with their friends and meeting people that enhances the pleasure of one's own coming and eating and so on. Unfortunately, the noise level at Nopa was rather loud, so we couldn't talk as much with our friends as we would have liked. It was not quite as noisy as Blue Fin in New York City which made conversation simply impossible, but it did make conversation difficult, and by the time we left, the relative silence of the street outside was a great relief.
The food was good, but far from excellent. The menu was imaginative enough, but the cooking lacked a bit in the execution. Perhaps our favorite dish was the white beans gratin with a good crispy cheese crust. In contrast, the lamb ribs were a bit lackluster, with a so so Moroccan red sauce that lacked bite and clarity of flavor. The spit roasted lamb was a disappointment. It was sliced thinly which meant that there was really no spit roasted flavor detectable. We did like the black code with escarole, but then we always like black cod, and we always like escarole, whether served with the black cod or as a side dish with capers and brown butter.
The hummus, served with focaccia, was good. The french fries were good enough, but were not straight from the fryer, and the harissa aioli was a bit bland.
We wish we could say more good things about Nopa. We really wanted to like the place, if only because it was a friendly looking place, and so many people seemed to be having a good time. There was a sense of play in the design of the physical space, with the long common sink outside the bathrooms, the mezzanine, and the like, and in the design of the menu, with a strong Mediterranean influence. The staff was friendly and knowledgeable, and we really felt welcome but, the noise and the lackluster execution worked against them. You can have an enjoyable meal at Nopa, if you remember that you won't be able to talk much, and don't expect too much from the kitchen, but San Francisco has so many other, better places to eat.